Posts or Comments 17 June 2024

Innovation &Invest in Malaria Control &Vaccine &World Malaria Day &Zero Malaria Bill Brieger | 25 Apr 2023 12:03 pm

World Malaria Day: Investing in Malaria Vaccines

World Malaria Day 2023 is focusing on three key themes, Investment, Innovation, and Implementation, the 3 I’s. The recently approved malaria vaccines and those still under development embody these themes fully.  They all represent decades of investment in innovation, research, and now implementation.

After extensive several decades of clinical research and three years of field implementation in Ghana, Malawi, and Kenya by the World Health Organization and National Malaria and Immunization Programs, the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine is being rolled out with assistance of GAVI, the Global Vaccine Alliance. During the malaria vaccine implementation program (MVIP) and also based on GAVI’s philosophy for vaccine programs generally, a key strategy was to provide RTS,S as routine immunization services alongside other essential services including a comprehensive package of malaria control and elimination interventions. RTS,S is not only being made available to the three MVIP countries, but as supplies come on board, other falciparum malaria endemic countries have started to apply for supplies and funding through GAVI.

It was well known from the beginning that although RTS,s might be first out the gate, other vaccines would be following closely on its heels. The benefits as well as the efficacy limitations of RTS,S were well known.  Therefore, talk was common for new products being available by 2026. Now in 2023, countries have started to move ahead on another vaccine candidate.

BBC reported that “Ghana is the first country to approve a(nother) new malaria vaccine that has been described as a ‘world-changer’ by the scientists who developed it.” R21 appears to be more effective than its predecessor, so Ghana’s drug regulators moved ahead quickly using final trial data on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, which is not even public, to approve it. Interestingly, this move is in parallel to the World Health Organization’s consideration of approving the vaccine.  Shortly thereafter, Nigerian medicine regulators also approved R21. Reuters noted that these “approvals are unusual as they have come before the publication of final-stage trial data for the vaccine.” The actual roll out will ultimately depend on official publication of the safety data and sourcing of funds.

As mentioned above, these malaria vaccines represented considerable investment of time and resources, embody the kind of innovation that is needed to tackle malaria as drug and insecticide resistance threaten progress toward elimination, and require detailed planning right down to the grassroots levels to ensure that a malaria vaccine delivery is part of a comprehensive package of malaria and child health services.

We need to return to the theme of investment. While international organizations, universities, ministries of health, and of course pharmaceutical companies have been investing in developing a safe, effective, and feasible product, these innovative products will not save lives until funds are invested for both purchase and service delivery are guaranteed. GAVI and Partners have put together over $200 million in support for RTS,S implementation for three years. The first window was open in September 2022 for the initial three MVIP countries, and a second window for others, depending on available supplies was open in December 2022.

Investment FOR implementation is a challenging subject because GAVI and collaborating agencies are not a bottomless well of money. What level of national investment by a country to protect its own children is feasible? Is there the national political will to contribute and invest in children in endemic countries, and not continue depending heavily on donors?

Malaria vaccines are a perfect example of what the 3 I’s can achieve. But beyond celebrating this addition to the malaria elimination toolkit, will we also be celebrating commitments by endemic countries of local funds to make zero malaria a reality?

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